by Leanne Grant
Author's Notes: I have not seen any Sentinel (or M7) so if the scene from TSbyBS wouldn't work just consider it even more AU than it already is. Thanks to Becky from the NightOwl's Nest who provided the script for TSbyBS from which I took a little of the dialogue.
Ezra sank back in the chair with a sigh of pure contentment. Wickedness was smited; the villains incarcerated; none of Team Seven was injured; Chris Larabee was, good lord, pleased and Ezra was relaxing back at home with Vin. He smiled, loosened his tie a fraction and watched through slitted eyes as Vin hustled about the kitchen making coffee.
The one slight annoyance was Vin's compulsive turning on of the TV news. Stray phrases filtered through his brain.
"...Rainer University Cascade... Detective Ellison...."
He heard rather than saw Vin enter the room. Ezra shifted deeper into the sofa one hand reached out towards his lover.
"...graduate student Blair Sandburg... sentinels..."
Vin remained fascinated by the television. If Ezra wasn't so tired he might have been offended. Instead he let his eyes settle shut as he drifted into slumber.
"Shit!" The exclamation broke through his reverie.
"Uh what?" He blinked twice. Vin paced impatiently about the room.
"Fuck Ezra, get your ass in gear." Ezra hauled himself to feet and stumbled after him into their bedroom.
"Vin wha's goin' on?"
Vin was on the floor pulling out the lock box he kept his guns in. He selected four of them, threw them and ammunition into a duffle bag. Then he grabbed the emergency kit bag.
"Vin?" Ezra tried again.
"Move it Ez, we got people to kill."
"Larabee." Chris bit back a sigh, was twenty-four hours peace too much to ask?
"Mr Larabee?" Obviously. That was Ezra, his voice pitched higher than normal, as close to hysteria as Ezra ever got.
"Ezra, you have five minutes before I disconnect the phone."
"What about Vin?" Chris felt a slight stir of panic. He hadn't thought anyone was hurt but you could never tell with Vin, or Ezra.
"I don't know." Chris opened his mouth to reply but caught the rumble of a PA announcement.
"Ezra, where the hell are you?"
"The airport," came the miserable reply.
"What? I thought you were going home to rest."
"I was," the hysteria was fading to be replaced with asperity, which meant Ezra was getting back on top of his game, good. "I was, but Mr Tanner apparently has other concerns that do not involve recuperation."
Mr Tanner? Vin you are going to paying a long time for this one.
"Well what happened?"
"I don't know."
Chris growled. Ezra hissed back. "I don't know. He must have seen something on the news to set him off. I wasn't paying attention, something to do with a university and waterfalls, I think."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't... Wait a minute he's talking to the ticket girl. Washington."
"DC? Why in the..."
"No, hang on, Cascade, Washington State."
"'Sthat better or worse?"
"Know, I got that part Ez. Fucking find out."
"He's not talking to me. Chris, he packed four extra guns."
"Four? Which ones?"
"A long one, a longer one, a square one and his normal sniper rifle."
Chris bit down his laughter.
"My pleasure." A choking sound came down the phone, and then Ezra was speaking again. "It may interest you to know he's telling the check-in-girl it's a federal emergency and we'll pay the compensation."
"Shit Ezra. There's no way I can get that past finance."
"Don't worry, I'll cover it. I'll take it out of Mr Tanner in trade." Ezra's voice had lowered ominously. Chris shook his head, Cowboy, he thought, you are in so much trouble.
"Ezra I still don't know what's going on."
"Well neither do I," He snapped back. "He hustled me out of the house saying we had people to kill." Ezra's voice faded as he looked up from the phone. Chris pressed his hand over his ear so he could follow the conversation.
"Yes Mr Tanner I am talking about you. I believe your boss would like a word." The phone was handed over and Vin spoke.
"Hurry it up, we've a plane to catch."
"Cowboy, what in seven hells is going on?"
"Got something to deal with. Be back as soon as we can manage." The phone clicked off.
Chris tried redialling both Vin and Ezra's mobiles but got no where. For a long moment he stared at the offending phone before he settled down with a sigh to summon the team.
On the plane Vin clicked his boot heels in impatient staccato rhythm. Ezra wriggled uncomfortably. He was so tired. He wanted nothing more than to sleep. He'd deal with Vin going crazy later, for now he just needed him to relax enough so they could sleep.
"Vin, Vin honey?" He tried for a smile. Vin's face snarled impatiently. Shifting his jacket so it rested across their laps Ezra took Vin's tense hand in one of his. Stroking his thumb over the clenching knuckles he spoke softly,
"Vin? I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong. Talk to me blue eyes. You are scaring me here."
The blue eyes softened. Vin tugged his hand loose and began to shuffle the newspaper he had picked up at the airport. Finding the desired article he thrust the paper at Ezra.
Ezra surveyed the headline.
SUPERMAN IS ALIVE AND WELL - AND LIVING IN CASCADE
Ezra read the headline twice again. Still confused he decided he had better read the whole article. He slid his hand back into Vin's and settled down in his seat.
As he studied the article things finally began to fall into place.
"You knew Captain Ellison in the army?" he guessed.
"Yeah. I was the Cap'n's sniper." Vin straightened proudly in his seat. Ezra just stared. Vin's eyes glowed with hero-worship. He looked exactly like JD talking about Chris Larabee. Ezra winced, this could get very ugly.
"And?" was all he said.
"And this little shit's screwed him over. Ain't happening to my Cap'n." Vin unconsciously squinted on eye as if sighting down a rifle-scope.
"So we are going to, ah, dispose of Blair Sandburg."
"Yup." Vin's finger tightened on an imaginary trigger.
Chris arrived at Buck and JD's condo. Inside he found the rest of the team assembled.
"Good to see you. Nate, you didn't have to come I know you wanted to spend time with Rain."
"She understood. Besides this is Vin n' Ez we're talking about. Bandages will be needed at some point."
"More like a full body cast," said Buck, making them laugh and breaking the tension.
"Okay JD what can you tell me."
"They did fly to Cascade. Well, Eric Simpson and Victor Taylor did. They will arrive in about an hour. We checked on the 24h news. The only thing mentioned is this sentinel business. Josiah knows all about it."
The leader's eyes switched to fix on Josiah.
"Now JD, I only said I heard of it. It's just a tall tale, Chris. An explorer, Burton wrote a book about tribal guardians with heightened senses. Seeing prey in the far distance, smelling out ambushes, that sort of thing."
"And this graduate student claims to have found one." JD just couldn't stay out of the conversation. "The detective was in the army and got stranded for eighteen months."
"Army?" queried Chris.
"You reckon that's the connection with Junior," said Buck.
"Haven't seen another. And Vin is incredibly closed mouthed about covert ops."
"More than usual?" snorted Nathan.
"So what we gonna do?" JD was ready for action.
Chris sighed, "You are going to get us on the first flight in the morning to Cascade. Everyone want to come? It is optional."
"Course we're coming, brother," said Josiah. "Somebody has to protect the city of Cascade."
"Not to mention whoever Junior plans on killing."
"Shit. JD why are you still here?" Chris sighed as he watched the youngest bound to the telephone. Hopefully Ezra could keep Vin from doing anything too stupid until they got to Cascade.
Ezra had tugged the chair across the hotel room so he could face Vin and block the door.
"Vi-in, we need to get some sleep. Tomorrow when we're more awake we'll work out a plan."
"Plan? Why do we need a plan? We just liquidate the problem." Vin paced impatiently.
"Come on Vin, sit down, your making me dizzy." Ezra caught him on his way past and pushed him down to sit on the bed. Crouching at Vin's feet he said, "We need a plan first. Even I can't talk someone into being alive again." Green eyes begged hopefully for inevitable comment.
With a sigh Vin flopped back onto the bed and said it,
"But Ezra, I thought you could talk anyone into anything."
Ezra scooted up to sit beside Vin and ran a gentle hand across his cheek,
"I wouldn't admit it to just anybody, but I do have some limitations."
"Not you, Ezra," said Vin, properly shocked.
"Uh huh." Ezra just managed to restrain a startled yelp as Vin tugged him down to rest against his chest.
"Love you anyway." Vin rubbed his cheek against Ezra's.
"Good, love you too."
They lay like that for a little while.
"So tell me about your Captain," said Ezra eventually.
"He was the best." Vin sat up and waved his arms with his enthusiasm. "I was this skinny, little thing, well still am but I was worse then, and I could only just read an' write but he picked me for his team. Then he said since I was on his team I better learn how. He spent ages going over books with me, and he taught me how to fight."
Ezra smiled and petted Vin's leg, the nearest bit of him he could reach, "Sounds like a real fine man, darlin'"
"He was. I told him about my ma." Vin stopped there.
"And he told me he reckoned she'd be proud of me."
Ezra shot upright, "Vin, of course your mother is proud of you."
"Maybe now, but then I weren't nothing much of anything."
"Vin!" Ezra grabbed his shoulders and shook him. "Don't speak like that. Your mother would always have been proud of you. How could she not be? You're You."
Ezra was grabbed around the waist and squeezed into a hug.
"Damn Ez, I love it when you go all eloquent."
"I suspect your definition of eloquent differs from mine, Mr Tanner, but nevertheless I am glad your Captain appreciated your sterling qualities." Ezra pushed himself up on his elbows and leant forward to kiss Vin on the nose.
"So what we gonna do? You reckon we don't have to kill this Sandburg?" There was almost a note of hope in Vin's voice.
"I certainly think it is inadvisable. It is very hard to un-kill someone so we should investigate all our other options first. If we put him out of commission for a day or so we can deny the story with no problem. With decent luck he'll be so terrified he will back us up. Then we'll ship him out to Timbuktu or some equally obscure locale to forget his disgrace. He's an anthropologist, he should even enjoy himself."
"What if he don't want to deny his story."
"Then we'll send him to Timbuktu in a pine box. We just don't tell anyone that."
"Sounds okay, you reckon it will work."
"Of course." Ezra smiled, he would make it work. Captain Ellison had taken care of his Vin and that put Ezra in his debt. However he had no intention of letting the student become another ache in his lover's conscience. Sandburg didn't deserve to be added to the tally Vin didn't think he knew about. If it came down to it, Ezra was going to make sure he killed the little prick himself. But Vin needed to fire the first shot, so tomorrow, that was what they would do. For now, though, they needed sleep.
"Come on Vin, love. We need to get into bed. We haven't slept for," Ezra consulted his watch, "Thirty-seven hours, Good lord."
"Sorry Ez." Vin remained unmoving. Ezra sat up and pushed ineffectually at his lover.
"Just a bit, you have to take your boots off at least."
With a groan Vin allowed himself to be pulled upright. Ezra stripped him of boots, jacket and jeans before allowing him to collapse back onto the bed. Equally quickly Ezra removed his own suit and slid into bed beside Vin, who immediately spooned up around him enveloping him in comforting warmth.
Ezra was just sinking below the waves of tiredness when the soft voice huffed in his ear,
"You really think it will be all right?"
"Of course," said Ezra as firmly as he could manage. In truth he was too exhausted to really be sure of anything but tomorrow was indeed another day.
The next day livid curses sizzled the air at Larabee's ranch as five sleepy men struggled to collect themselves. Eventually they staggered into a disorderly line in the hall.
"I've never see such a sorry looking lot," said Chris.
"It's all Vin and Ezra's fault," growled Nathan. Each man in turn had refused to even contemplate his idea of a healthy breakfast. At least Ezra had grasped that fruit was actually a food and not just something that had yet to be made into jam.
"Yeah," agreed Buck, "Ez is always so miserable when we wake him up, you can't help but feel better."
"Vin might even sing," said JD, supporting his partner. In truth both he Buck were unusually subdued without Vin and Ezra to play off. But they both grinned at the thought of Vin's loud and off-key singing; Ezra's agonised expression and his endlessly long-winded recriminations.
Chris sighed and then glared when Josiah smiled at him.
"All right, I miss them too," he admitted.
"I guess that makes it unanimous, brothers."
"Well what are we waiting for?" roared Buck, grabbing his sports bag.
"Cascade or bust," cried JD as he chased out the house after Buck.
"Are we sure we want them back?" asked Chris plain'tively.
"Let's go brother."
Ezra woke up slowly. He could feel Vin looking at him but couldn't quite bring him into focus. With an awful effort he forced weary muscles to bring his hand to his eyes. Rubbing them clear he blinked at blue eyes with dark shadows beneath them.
"Jesus Vin. You look even worse than yesterday." His voice, husky from sleep, cracked and he cleared his throat. "Did you get any sleep at all?"
"You all right?"
"Pretty much. You got a plan?"
Bracing himself against Vin, Ezra reluctantly sat up. "We need information. You get the TV and radio, I'll take Cascade PD's computer system. But first, coffee, please."
"Sure Ez, shoulda thought of that. You take a shower and I'll ring room service."
"And what exactly are you implying?"
Vin stopped and stared. Ezra bit his lip when he realised Vin hadn't recognised the gentle tease. He must be more tired than he'd thought.
"Are you saying I smell, Mr Tanner?"
Comprehension flitted across Vin's face. "Nah Ez. I'm saying you stink."
Ezra threw both pillows at him and dragged himself off to the bathroom.
Blair flinched at the expression on his sentinel's face,
"Jim, I can explain."
"Chief, do not say anything right now."
Jim Ellison paced like the cornered panther he was. He was furious with everything, Naomi, the situation, his senses. It was only by channelling his frustration on to Blair that he could stop himself flying apart. If only the whole mess would just go away. He snarled as he surveyed the press. How was he supposed to spot Zoeller in this mess?
"I know what to do, Chief, all right? I know the drill."
Blair drooped miserably. It was all very well for Megan to say he should do what was right and move on with a clear conscience, but this was so far from right it had left the building and moved next door. Everything was screwed up and Jim hated him. What was he going to do?
Jim tuned out the mumbling of the press. They really were hyenas. He could hear a bullet being loaded into a chamber. He turned to scan the crowd. Suddenly lights flashed.
"Hey! Hey, it's the sentinel!"
"Hey, Detective Ellison!"
From their vantage point above the crowd Vin and Ezra watched the interaction. Vin looked down his rifle-scope; Ezra had a pair of binoculars. Vin growled as his Captain pulled away from Sandburg.
"The bastard is dust."
"Now Vin remember we only need to scare the fight out of Sandburg and keep him while I do damage control."
Vin growled low in his throat, "Heard on the radio they are 'reviewing all of Detective Ellison's cases in light of these developments.'"
Ezra winced. That would be his worst nightmare. "Why?"
"There are 'civil rights implications' iffen he were listenin' to them from a distance."
"Oh shit." Ezra began to revise his doubts on simply disposing of Blair Sandburg.
"You said it. Ain't no way my Cap'n would survive that." Vin spat his disgust. Ezra shivered at the thought of every crook he'd put away coming after him simultaneously. He turned his attention back to the scene below him.
"All right I got the rat lined up. Can you see anything?"
Ezra raked the crowd with binoculars.
"No; no; wait a minute. Vin? Can you see that camera man?"
"There's near fifty of 'em, Ez."
"The one to the left. He is not reacting as others are. His attention is..."
"I got him. Yeah, what is he doin'?"
The voices of the reporters roared through his head, stunning him for a moment. He saw Blair run forward to push them back. Blair's mouth was moving but he couldn't make sense of the sounds. He saw the bullet come from the crowd to shatter the window in front of Bartley.
"Damnit," he cursed. Before he could began to scan the crowd one of the cameramen slumped to the floor. He was bleeding from two shots: head and heart.
"SNIPER," he yelled. Instinctively he threw himself over Blair. He dialled up his eyesight trying to follow back the path of the bullets. All the while he was thinking; I recognise that handiwork. In the distance he caught the glint of gun metal and a flash of long brown hair as the sniper retreated.
He pushed himself into an upright position. "You little shit. What the hell are you doing here?" he asked wonderingly
Vin and Ezra paused at the bottom of the steps. Savagely Vin began to break down his rifle. Ezra held open the duffle bag for the discarded parts.
"What the hell did he do that for?" growled Vin, "I coulda got the bastard."
"Maybe your Captain is fonder of Mr Sandburg than current events suggest. Perhaps Mr Sandburg did not anticipate this reaction when he released his dissertation."
Vin threw the remainder of the rifle into the bag. He slumped back against the wall.
"So what'd we do now?"
"I suspect I can think of something."
The remaining five of the magnificent seven had paused in their exodus from the airport. Josiah and Nathan left the second car to join Chris and Buck hovering over JD. JD sat in the back of the transit squeaking excitedly. He was plugged into police radio, previous experience had suggested it was one of the quickest ways of catching up with the trouble twins.
Eventually he removed the earpiece.
"And?" demanded Chris.
"The police have been protecting a man named Bartley."
"It's all right he's already been taken out. Two shots: head and heart."
Vin's signature shot. "Shit."
"They ain't found a trace of the sniper as yet."
"That's something," said Josiah, comfortingly.
"I'm gonna kill them both," growled Chris, "Alright, Buck, take us to police headquarters."
Jim and Blair looked down on the chaos of the abandoned rally. They stood in the position Vin and Ezra had just left. Blair leant forward while keeping his feet well back from the edge.
"You sure, man? We're a long way back."
"Who's got the super senses round here, Chief?"
Blair looked up quickly but was relieved to see a smile in Jim's eyes.
"Uh, that would be you."
"He is a genius." He reached over to ruffle Blair's curls. Blair leaned into his hand, sighing happily. Blair retreated from the edge, his legs feeling shaky with relief.
Jim turned his attention to the scene, intently scanning the ground. The relief that Zoeller was dead almost made him stagger. He knew the Ice Man had a tendency to target his pursuers and the clamour over his senses had frustrated him almost unbearably. Now he and Blair had time to deal with this sentinel crap. All he had to cope with was the sudden appearance of Tanner. Thinking of Tanner allowed him to home in on one long brown hair. He reached down for it.
Blair elbowed him in the ribs and offered him a pair of gloves. Jim seized on the hair anyway and gently released it to the wind. He smiled at Blair's shocked face.
"Jim? What the hell?" His shock increased as Jim scuffed out a dusty half footprint. "Jim? What are you doing? That was evidence."
"Oh I don't know, Chief, like you said we are a pretty good distance away."
"Jim, you led us right here. You saw the shooter." Blair stopped mouth half-cocked as he realised what he had just said. "You saw the shooter." It was stated as fact.
"They did us a favour, Chief."
"Nuh-uh, this is not you. You don't do this. Jim? You saw and recognised the shooter. So who was it? Why are you protecting them?"
"That is what I would like to know," growled Simon, as he stalked forwards. "What do you think you were doing Detective? The kid was right, that was evidence."
Jim straightened, falling into his military pose. Simon growled again. In this mood all he would get out of Jim would be his name and rank. He glowered at Sandburg, hoping the kid would know what was going on.
"Uh Simon, I think you must have been mistaken. We both know Jim would never destroy evidence."
Simon sucked in a deep breath and intensified his glower. The kid had the decency to blush but remained firm.
"Right, fine. Back to my office. We'll have ourselves a nice little talk."
"Off the record," said Jim firmly. Blair stepped supportively close to him.
Simon just growled.
Vin stared at Ezra dubiously "That'll work?"
"Watch me." Ezra's green eyes sparkled and he seemed to have shed his exhaustion. Vin felt himself relax. Everything would be okay, Ezra was going to sort everything out.
"Thank you Ezra."
"I assure you, Vin, if this works right, I will be thanking you."
"No I don't mean that, well I do but I meant all of this whole thing. Thanks for stopping me doing anything stupid. I ain't been thinking all that clear."
"You were worried. And Sandburg has made the most appalling mess."
"But you can clean up, right?"
"My speciality, Vin." Ezra laughed softly to himself. Vin was too tired to work it out. He just watched as Ezra found the number he wanted and dialled.
"Ah yes, Merlin Studios, please, thank you... May I speak to Mr Talesian? Who's calling? Oh just his son." He smirked into the phone.
Vin could hear the intake of breath from the other end of the line. He pulled his knees into his chest and grinned. His Ezra was something to see, smooth as silk; he'd have Inuit begging for ice. Vin was more than happy to lay back and just watch with admiration. In fact lying down on the comfy bed was just the thing for his aching body. He only just conscious when he felt Ezra draw the blanket over him. The last thing he remembered was a gentle hand trailing through his hair.
Simon stalked inside his office, pausing to allow Ellison and Sandburg to enter before slamming the door closed.
"Okay talk." He focused on Sandburg. Blair just shrugged helplessly. Simon turned his attention to his top detective.
"Jim? Ellison, I am your commanding officer. I demand an explanation." Jim tensed. "Don't even think about pulling that solider boy shit with me, Ellison."
"Funny you should mention the army."
"Oh no, not covert ops. That's worse than this sentinel business."
"Covert ops." Jim fell silent, wondering if Simon was going to push it.
"I told you this was off the record; so talk."
"I recognised the sniper. I only know one little bastard cocky enough to pull off two shots like that."
"You run him in?"
"Could say that. He was in my unit."
Simon threw his hands in the air in disgust. "Why the hell didn't I guess."
"I thought your unit went down with you in Peru?" said Blair.
"Tanner was my sniper. I got him switched to a solo op just before Peru. I had a bad feeling and Tanner a worse one." Jim massaged his temples with his fingertips.
"So he survived."
"I didn't think so, Oliver told me he was dead."
"It was Tanner. I saw him."
"So what is he doing here?" Simon dragged the conversation back on topic.
"I don't know, sir. He can't have been after Zoeller, he shot too late. And the positioning was wrong. It would have been easier to take us out than Zoeller."
"Maybe he was after you," suggested Blair.
"Never," stated Jim in a tone that brooked no arguments.
"Yeah, must be a good friend if you are destroying evidence after all this time."
Jim said nothing and tried not to smile. There was no way he'd let Tanner go down for shooting scum like Zoeller. Not that he was after Zoeller, the angle suggested he was after Bartley or one of the cops on guard. He just plain knew Tanner wasn't after him, the kid was too damn loyal. So who was he after...
Blair crossed his line of sight as he bounced towards the window.
Blair? No, Tanner would never... Oh Shit.
Jim dived after Blair knocking him to the floor away from the window.
"Jim? Jim what the hell was that for?"
"Ellison," roared Simon.
"Jim? Is this a sentinel thing? Come back to me Jim."
"Shut up Chief, I'm fine. It was you he was after."
"Me?" squeaked Blair, looking around nervously.
"Would you care to explain your conclusions Ellison." Simon leaned his head to one side, then nodded, lowering himself to join his men on the floor.
"Tanner's one of the best. He picked the angle that allowed him to go after the protection party."
"Why? And why'd he kill Zoeller."
"He was protecting me, sir." Jim was beginning to feel slightly sick. "If Zoeller hadn't been there to distract him he'd have gone after his original target."
"Me? Why me?" Blair's eyes were wide, his pupils dilated.
"He was protecting me. You are the one who released my sentinel secret to the world."
"But? I mean... You want me dead?" Blair's voice trailed off.
"No. God no, Chief." Jim wrapped an arm tightly about his shoulders and leaned to rub Blair's cheeks trying to remove the dead whiteness.
"Then?" He asked timidly.
"I meant to tell you this for a while. I reckon my senses worked intermittently while I was in the army. My unit was known to be 'lucky'. I'd yell down and they'd all drop before anyone else knew mortar fire was coming. And I was like a damn canary when it came to gas. Tanner's a bright kid, if he's seen the news he'd work it out. And it looks like you screwed me over big time."
"Jim I never..."
"I know Chief, I know." And Jim did know. The sheer terror that raced through his heart when he thought how close Tanner had come cleared his mind. He and Blair were a team and it was going to stay that way.
"But, Chief, it ain't that obvious if you're looking in from the outside."
"And you weren't being that friendly to me before the shots."
Jim was forced to nod his head.
"But you did cover Sandburg when the shots came. So hopefully this Tanner will think twice."
"Hopefully," Jim agreed, "But Tanner can be mule-headed. We'll get this straightened out as soon as we can, but until then, Blair don't go anywhere without me."
"Sure Jim." Blair's normal inclination to fight such commands vanished under the welcome weight of concern in his sentinel's eyes.
"Glad that's sorted." Simon pushed himself to his feet. "Now..."
The door burst open. Rafe hurtled in. He blinked at Jim and Blair stretched out on the floor.
"Getting cosy boys?"
"There was a reason for this interruption detective?" asked Simon ominously.
"Uh. Yeah." Rafe refocused his attention on his captain.
"There are five ATF agents insisting they see you, sir."
"Tell 'em to wait."
"They just pushed past the front desk. They are demanding to see Captain Ellison, something to do with a man he knew in the Rangers."
Chris Larabee swept through the corridors of Cascade Police Head Quarters. He was flanked by Buck and Josiah and behind them JD and Nathan. He was unaware of the police officers flattening against the wall to give them room.
They arrived in Major Crimes just as Rafe hurried in to speak to Banks. Chris headed straight for the office at the back of the room. He barely noticed Brown and Taggert move to stop him, they were swept aside by Buck and Josiah, Chris continued on.
He paused momentarily in the office doorway. He moved directly to tall man hovering protectively over a shorter man with long curly hair.
"Detective Ellison." Ellison and Larabee shook hands. Jim remained silent, waiting to see what the strangers wanted.
"Do you recall a man by the name of Vin Tanner from the army?"
Jim remained silent. Chris began to tense.
"Perhaps he was in your unit?" said Josiah, trying to calm matters. Jim kept quiet, unwilling to give Tanner up to the wolves.
Chris lost his hold on his temper.
"Look detective, we can get the information from the army if we have to but it's gonna take time. If anything happens before then I'll be holding you directly responsible."
Jim reluctantly recognised the truth of that. His hands went behind his back as he fell into parade rest.
"Private Vincent Tanner served as my sniper for two years eight months." He very nearly clicked his heels. Simon sighed heavily.
"We heard on the radio a sniper took out a hit man. Has anyone else been injured?"
Tension suddenly left the Denver contingent. A nod of Chris' head had JD securing the door. He turned to a puzzled Simon,
"Captain Banks, can we talk off the record?"
Simon, still running to keep up with the afternoon's events, was only too pleased to agree.
"Ellison, would you say Tanner was a close friend?"
"Private Tanner was my sniper, sir."
"Jim, quit it," growled Simon.
Josiah turned to his boss, "He knows, Chris."
"Somehow he knows Vin was the sniper. Guess he recognised the handiwork. He's protecting him."
"That true detective?"
Silence and a slight stiffening of Jim's face gave them their answer. The tension dropped another notch. Chris sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"Okay, let's try this again. We're working at cross-purposes here. Vin Tanner is one of my men."
"ATF? Tanner's ATF? What's he doing here?" demanded Jim.
"Tanner's gone AWOL as has Standish, my undercover agent. Vin saw something about this sentinel mess on the news and took off. From what he said I think he was intending to deep six the problem." Chris couldn't stop his eyes wandering to Blair's white face.
Jim wrapped an arm firmly about his guide's shaking shoulders.
"It has all been a misunderstanding. The university should never have released the dissertation and the press blew it up out of proportion. I am not and never have been any such thing as a sentinel."
"Detective, I don't care if you used to be a woman, I just want Tanner and Standish back, preferably without a charge of murder one. Zoeller?"
Simon decided someone needed to take charge before tempers started fraying again.
"Given the circumstances the Ice Man's death can only be considered fortunate. Thanks to a certain detective," he glared at Jim, "There is no evidence to link anyone to the hit. Anyone could have wanted Zoeller dead. I feel sure his death will go unsolved."
"Good," said Chris. Before he could continue the door slammed open and Rafe burst in again.
"Detective," snapped Simon.
"Sorry Captain. There's some movie producer on the phone. He called to tell Sandburg all the publicity was great for the film but if he was responsible for leaking it to the press he was going to take the damages out of his fee."
"Sandburg!" howled Simon and Jim simultaneously.
"Jim honest to God I don't know what he's talking about. I never... I would never.... I didn't..." Blair trailed off.
The Denver Team exchanged glances. Josiah began to smile,
"Detective, did the movie producer give his name?"
"Uh yeah, Talesian. Why?"
"Ezra," chorused five men.
"Would you care to explain what is going on?" Simon's fingers twitched seeking an unavailable cigar.
"Talesian was one of Ezra's step-fathers," explained JD, grinning widely.
Simon began to count to five, loudly.
"Ezra Standish, my undercover agent. Vin's partner." Chris too was smiling broadly.
"But, uh, how does a movie help," stammered Blair, "Surely that just makes things worse."
"Not if Ezra's behind it," said Buck. He had complete faith in the undercover agent.
Brown sideled forwards reluctantly. Unfortunately with his partner still delivering the previous message, he had to deliver this one himself.
"What now Brown?"
"That was downstairs. They have two ATF agents. They managed to get another flight and just got here."
"Not more ATF agents," Simon was beginning to wish he'd never woken up this morning. He noticed the men from Denver looked equally puzzled.
"Did they give their names?" said Chris.
"Um yeah, Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner."
There was a dead silence. Rafe and Brown took the opportunity to retreat. As the door clicked shut Chris swore low and vicious. Buck moved to hold on to his right arm.
"I'm gonna kill the sonofabitches. They," deep breath, "Are," deeper breath, "Dead." Buck patted him on the back consolingly.
Seeing Buck was occupied JD turned to Josiah, "What do they mean they just arrived?"
"We followed Eric Simpson and Victor Taylor. Ezra and Vin only just arrived."
"And here they come," said Nathan peeking through the blinds. Ezra strolled into the office looking completely immaculate and as if he hadn't a care in the world.
"Mr Larabee, as you can see we finally arrived. It wasn't nice running off without us like that." Behind him Vin raised a hand to hide a snigger as the vein in Larabee's forehead began to pulse.
"Problem, Mr Larabee? I have to confess I am quite fatigued after the hectic chase you have led us on. Perhaps we could retire to our hotel and continue this conference after a convenient interval."
Chris began to sputter. Buck gently pulled him aside and settled him by Josiah. Good as it was to see Ezra enjoying himself like this, it was awfully bad for Chris' blood pressure.
"Now Mr Sandburg." He smiled at Blair and shook the hand he automatically held out. "What a pleasure it is to meet you. My stepfather, Talesian you know, has told me of your prodigious imaginative talent."
"Uh thank you." Blair edged closer to Jim, unsure what exactly was happening.
"Indeed. He authorised me to act as his representative. He is offering you a million for the idea and eighty thousand for the script. Minus whatever costs arise from litigation due to its unfortunate release as a factual dissertation. Perhaps we could sign such an agreement now, backdated somewhat before this unfortunate contretemps."
"Uh, yeah, eighty thousand for a script?"
"And I shall receive a bare half of that for ghost-writing for you."
"You, Mr Sandburg, will be far too busy assembling your dissertation on closed societies. I believe Mr Sanchez would be willing to assist you in the endeavour. Now I trust you have an explanation for the dreadful current state of affairs." Blair was on the receiving end of a toothy grin. He blinked at the glint of gold.
"Um yeah, er, my mother..."
"Say no more Mr Sandburg, I fully comprehend and sympathise with your plight."
"Right, I guess." Blair stood still, stunned at this casual re-arrangement of his life.
"I never thought I'd see the day," laughed Jim.
"Someone outtalked Sandburg." Both Jim and Simon burst out laughing. The relief at the solution to the sentinel problem making them giddy. Vin smiled and rested his chin on Ezra's shoulder.
"Did good, green eyes." Ezra slid a hand behind his back and squeezed Vin's arm.
Jim recovered and turned to glare at Tanner.
"And just what did you think you were playing at Private?"
"Cap'n." Vin's face had that wonderful blank innocence, that only he could project.
"Don't even try it, I know you Tanner." Vin stepped out from behind Ezra and stood to attention.
"How come I can never get him to do that," moaned Chris. The rest of Team Seven watched in surprise, they had all been unaware Tanner actually could stand upright.
"Check your facts more carefully next time."
"Sir." Tanner was staring straight ahead face blank. Ezra twitched at his side, glaring at Ellison. Chris followed his arms across his chest and stepped to face Ellison solidly. Jim smiled at the protective gestures, looked like his private had fallen into good hands. He wanted to vent his protective fury at Tanner but knew he couldn't. Tanner had been protecting and taking his cues from him. If he had kept Blair close Tanner would never have sighted him. The fault was his. He looked down at the floor.
"Was just gonna put him out of commission for a week or so, sir," offered Vin hopefully.
Jim wasn't sure if that was better or worse. While he thought he automatically snagged Blair with one hand and tugged until he was behind him. He took a deep breath and decided to put the whole issue into the past,
"Good shooting private. Saved us a lot of trouble."
"Thank you sir."
"At ease Tanner, now suppose you introduce your friends."
"ain't they done gone mentioned their names." The stone face was now trying to hide a grin.
"Now Vin, you know Mr Larabee has no discernable manners." Vin slung an arm around Ezra's shoulder.
"Okay sir. That there is my boss Chris Larabee. Over there with the mustache is Buck Wilmington, the big guy is Josiah Sanchez, the kid is JD Dunne and he's our medic Nathan Jackson. Patches us up real good." Ezra tugged on his arm. Vin grinned at him and then turned to grin at his Captain. "An' this is Ezra."
"And Ezra is?"
"Oh nobody special," said Vin, unable to hide his smile. "Ack," he gasped as Ezra elbowed him in the stomach.
"I'll have you know I am soon to be a world famous scriptwriter." Ezra produced a piece of paper and a pen and handed them to Blair. "If you would just sign here Mr Sandburg. You will assign all rights to the sentinel idea to Mr Talesian or his chosen representatives in return for one million dollars. A further eighty thousand buys the dissertation or script, what ever you desire to call it. This second piece of paper grants me forty thousand for arranging the script into a film suitable format. They are dated two weeks ago, which will solve considerable confusion."
Ezra watched Blair avidly as he moved to a desk.
"Might want a lawyer to check those papers over," said Nathan. He never could just watch people fall to Ezra's machinations.
Blair glanced at Jim and shook his head firmly. "No, I am more than happy to get rid of this sentinel thing once and for all." He rapidly signed his name and handed the papers to Ezra.
"Thank you Ezra."
"Thank you Mr Sandburg. We are both going to be rich." Ezra's dimples appeared and his gold tooth flashed. The tension level dropped another notch and everyone laughed. Vin and Ezra were already punch drunk from leftover adrenaline and now light-headed relief claimed the rest of them. Chris, who had recovered his temper and his ability to speak, grinned wolfishly. It was payback time.
"Uh Ezra there is one thing you are forgetting..."
"Yes Mr Larabee." Ezra turned to face his boss.
"The money for the flights here."
"Both of them?" he asked without much hope.
"Seven flights Ezra. We are all here."
"Very well seven flights..."
"And the hotel bill," interrupted Nathan, "And the car hire, and the..."
"I get the idea Mr Jackson."
"And I stood Rain up to rush out here to your rescue. I think it will take something very nice to make up for it." Team Seven stared at him. "What? You think I can spend all this time around Ezra without some of it rubbing off? I think she'd like a nice, romantic weekend break for two, a nice expensive break."
"Very well." Ezra tapped the pen against his teeth. "And who is she taking with her on this romantic getaway?"
Nathan didn't even bother replying; he just cuffed Ezra round the head, albeit gently, he was a medic.
"I reckon Casey would like one of them trips," said JD, eager as always to jump on the bandwagon.
"I sure know several beautiful ladies who'd be real appreciative."
"Only one, Buck," said Chris, "There has to be enough left to take me and Mary somewhere special."
Ezra, who had brightened, shot a dirty look at his boss. "Anyone else want to try and spend my money."
"Well brother," said Josiah, "Seeing as I am to stay here and write a dissertation, I believe it's only fair I stay in one of the finer hotels. No offense brother Blair."
"None taken," said Blair. He was watching the interaction with wide, bright eyes and already wondering if any of them would agree to be interviewed for his new dissertation.
"Anyone else?" asked Ezra with false patience. "Vin?" he rounded on his lover.
"Um no," Vin shifted back a pace before stopping himself. "You're all I want." It would have worked better if Vin hadn't sounded so nervous. Team Seven hooted.
"Nice try Tanner," said Jim.
Vin blushed, "Sorry sir." He'd been so caught up watching the guys bait Ezra that he'd forgotten they had an audience.
"Junior, I gotta teach you some better lines," Buck shook his head in despair.
Ezra growled low in his throat and then smiled with little-boy sweetness, "Anybody else have any comments?"
"Not a thing."
They began to hustle out the door.
Chris paused and said to the Cascade contingent, "You want to go get a drink? I know I need one."
Jim and Blair both looked at their boss. Simon considered for a moment.
"Oh why not. We got something to celebrate now all this sentinel crap is out of our hair." He stopped and smiled slyly, "I take it Agent Standish is buying."
Before Ezra could even say anything Vin manhandled him into a corner.
"Uh Cowboy, we'll be along in a minute."
"Sure thing Cowboy. Take all the time you need, I know Ezra muttered something about taking the cost of your little jaunt out in trade." Chris laughed as Vin turned beet red, served him right for scaring him half to death. He did take pity though and pushed an interested Blair out the room and closed the door behind them.
It was now Ezra who had Vin trapped against the wall.
"Uh Ez, green eyes..." He was cut off by a hard satisfying kiss. When he was totally breathless Ezra pulled back and grinned at him,
"Yes Mr Tanner?"
Vin blinked in surprise, "Ez? You don't seem as upset as you might be, given the guys just spent all your money?"
"Not all my money. I believe I neglected to mention that my step-father and I have a three script deal."
"You mean you get another eighty thousand?"
"No, a hundred and sixty, I won't be splitting it with Mr Sandburg." Ezra grinned, a very satisfied grin.
"What do you mean?"
"I know that look, I can see the cream on your whiskers. What aren't you telling me?"
"My step-father accepted a little casting advice. I thought it wise the lead looked as little like your Detective Ellison as possible."
"Good idea. And?"
"I suggested that the hero from Terminator would be most suitable."
"You mean the one that looks like Chris?"
Vin's eyes widened and an awed grin spread across his face,
"He's gonna kill us."
"Worth it though."
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